Sidney Sussex College - Things to do in Cambridge

The journey of Oliver Cromwell’s head is certainly an interesting one. On September 3rd, 1658 a stately funeral was held at Westminster Abbey, the burial place of the Kings of England. However, on this occasion, the funeral was not for a king, but for the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.  Following the end of the Civil War and the execution of Charles I, Cromwell had been made ruler of the newly formed English Commonwealth.

Following Oliver’s death, his son, Richard Cromwell was made Lord Protector but his rule was overthrown by the army in 1659. After which, the monarchy was re-established by Charles I son, Charles II. One of Charles II first act of the new monarchy was to round up everyone involved in the execution of his father, including the corpse of Oliver Cromwell. Oliver corpse was unable to issue a defence and therefore found guilty. After Cromwell’s body was cut down and beheaded, his head was spiked outside parliament; the head remained throughout the entirety of Charles II’s reign.

In 1685, a storm broke the spike and sent the head tumbling into Parliament square, where an unnamed sentinel stumbled across it. Thinking he could make some money from it, he hid the head under his coat and took it home. The sentinel hid the head in his chimney, without telling his family, until he was lying on his death bed. The family then sold the head to a Swiss-French collector of curiosities, Claudius De Puy. De Puy, proudly showed off the head in his museum, which was seen as one of the most popular museums in London, it stayed there until his death.

The De Puy family then went on to sell the head to the Russell family, who were related to Cromwell’s. A number of years later, the Russell’s were approached by James Cox, a museum owner, who offered 100 pounds for the head (around £6000 in today’s money) but the money was rejected as despite the debt the Russell’s were in, the head had a sentimental value.

Cox did eventually acquire the head, but he had nowhere to put it as he had gone into the jewellery business and was no longer a museum owner. Cox sold it to three brothers named Hughes for £230 (£8000). The brothers intended to set up a Cromwell museum but it flopped as there was now a doubt over the authenticity of the head. The Hughes brothers then sold it in 1815 to the Wilkinson family, where it would remain. On the 25th March 1960, the head was finally interred again by the Wilkinson’s in a secret location near the antechapel of Sidney Sussex College.

Sidney Sussex College - Things to do in Cambridge

Sidney Sussex College – Things to do in Cambridge